Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sustainable Cities Index: Manchester still 15th

In the latest MCFly we reported on the Forum for the Future's “Sustainable Cities Index.” Manchester came 15th, down three places on last year. We sought comment from various people about this, including Richard Cowell, Manchester's Executive Member for the Environment,

He defended the City Council's record, admitting “We're disappointed to have come 15th on the index this year, but we're currently awaiting the result of Forum For The Future's own review of its data.

Well the wait is over, and (drumroll please) Manchester's position is now... still 15th.

The following was sent to us by Forum for the Future:

Thanks to the Manchester Climate Fortnightly for the piece about our Sustainable Cities Index. Although we still waiting to take delivery of the amended report, we thought your readers would be interested to read our latest blog which contains the corrected rankings. Manchester remains at fifteen. It can be read here:

Monday, 24 November 2008

Manchester Carbon Co-op wins social innovation prize

Manchester Carbon Co-op has been awarded a place at a national event for social innovation in London in December. With nearly twice as many votes as its competitor proposals, the Carbon Co-op will benefit from SiCamp's efforts to unite “talented software developers and designers with social innovators to build effective web-based solutions to real social problems.”
The Carbon Co-op is a planned consumer co-operative, proposed for South Manchester, which will link up people who want to buy low carbon technologies like solar panels, insulation and energy meters, cutting the cost by achieving economies of scale in purchasing and installing the kit. It's hoped that as well as bringing individuals together, social housing providers may also be interested in rolling out the technology to low income households, helping to combat fuel poverty as well as climate change.
The Co-op was based on the solar clubs and environmental bulk-buying co-ops which have formed in the USA and Japan.
Jonathan from the Carbon Co-op will be attending the Social Innovation Camp and will be keeping a blog on his website. Other organisations involved include URBED.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

MCFly 012- Climate Change Foundation

MCFly spoke to one of its people with the Finger on the Pulse (or legume- we're not really sure) about the very new “Climate Change Foundation (CCF)”, a potential new source of money for climate change action in Greater Manchester.

What is the Climate Change Foundation and where is the money going to come from?
The CCF is conceived as a means by which investment can be generated for substantial and possibly radical work on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the city region. It will be independent of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) and owned by its investors. This could give the body useful flexibility in terms of what it can fund – and how fast it can do it. It will most likely mix private sector funds with other sources such as endowments and possibly the European Investment Bank. It is possibly best viewed as a vital function of the new work on Climate Change in the city region - which may or may not be separate from the Manchester Climate Change Agency. So basically, it is an idea that is being explored but will not see light of day until well after the Environment Commission and the Manchester Climate Change Agency are open for business, and settled in, early next year. It's unlikely that public funds will be used for running the thing.

What is it supposed to achieve?
Cold Hard Cash for good and substantial Climate Change work - and cash that could be independent of the political processes of AGMA. It is also a way to get past the Town Hall credibility gap that is all too real to many sectors outside of the Town Halls of the region. It will also make real the 'investment proposition' on Climate Change -so the Foundation can say to organisations looking to reduce their emissions 'we enable you to cut your energy use/make your own low carbon energy and that will make you money - which you then use to pay us back.' An oversimplification for sure, but applicable to many circumstances - especially with a longish pay back period.

How might it go Horribly Wrong?

* If energy stays so cheap that the investment in saving it or generating it doesn't pay. At the moment, the Recession will ensure that even cheapish energy will be worth saving [MCFly notes that on Nov 21 oil was below $50 a barrel...] New regulation will also affect this – especially in the realms of planning and Carbon Trading.
* If AGMA don't realise how valuable the Foundation could be and don't engage in it, or don't allow it to be independent.
* If people get so confused about the proliferation of Climate Change bodies that they don't get the rationale.
Watch this space- MCFly will follow the story...

The Mystery of the Missing Ratings

This story was supposed to be about Manchester's poor rating in Forum for the Future's 'Sustainable Cities Index.' Released on November 10, the ratings proclaimed Bristol “the most sustainable city in Britain,” for its recycling, composting and waste collection programmes, open spaces and clean water.

Manchester rated only 15th in the listings, having dropped from 12th place in 2007, despite Council promises that we'd be the greenest city in Britain by 2010.

But when McFly tried to learn more about the ratings, we found that the 2008 list had vanished from the website. An enquiry was met with the information that “We're reviewing all the data in our Sustainable Cities Index after an error was brought to our attention and have taken it off our website in the meantime. It's important to have accurate figures which councils can use to benchmark their efforts and we will be reissuing these as soon as we have completed our review.”

Forum for the Future was set up in the 1990s to foster links between environmentalists, government and business, but was met with scepticism by greens for including the likes of BNFL and BP amongst its corporate members.

Its first Sustainable Cities Index put Brighton & Hove at the top of the pile, followed by Edinburgh and Bristol.

While the Council may be breathing a temporary sigh of relief, Manchester Green Party's Brian Candeland was less optimistic.

Whilst Forum for the Future have identified some inconsistencies in their data and removed their report from the website to check it, it is likely that the positions are broadly correct,” he said. “At least Manchester cannot have done worse than last year, unless a missing climate change strategy could incur minus points. The 2007 survey said that cities like Manchester that went for grand projects performed poorly. The indication is that “trophy-collecting” distracts from the broader criteria of what makes a sustainable and liveable city."

Martin Empson of Manchester Campaign Against Climate Change demanded that “the council should be

looking at radical solutions rather than relying on the goodwill of local businesses. In the current economic climate, the council should be using its powers to instigate major improvement works on housing and transport services to both reduce emissions and safeguard jobs and services."

Even Future ProManchester, a young professionals' organisation, called on Council Leadership to take a former stance, with chair Alex Solk commenting that: “Manchester has some great leaders, but who is there to deliver a sustainable strategy? We should be developing policies and business practices to generate revenue in the short term and develop a sustainable city for the future in the long term.”

Richard Cowell, Manchester's Executive Member for the Environment, defended the City Council's record, admitting “"We're disappointed to have come 15th on the index this year, but we're currently awaiting the result of Forum For The Future's own review of its data” but claiming that "Combating climate change is a major priority for the City Council and we're currently working on a detailed report to be launched in the near future, detailing how we're going to reach our target of reducing CO2 emissions by one million tonnes by 2020.”

Ultimately though, we get the leadership we deserve. Despite activist rhetoric about “think global act local”, Manchester City Council has not been criticised for its year of inaction. What will it take to get Manchester's environmentalists to engage critically with the Council? Will Howard Bernstein have to start commuting to work in a helicopter, tossing out free Easyjet vouchers as he goes, before anyone takes the blindest bit of notice?



Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Road to Copenhagen

Another news-packed MCFly will be hitting your email inboxes on Sunday 22nd November. In the meantime, when not sweating blood over Chomsky at 80, the upcoming one-day event in central Manchester, I've had a read of a couple of very interesting articles about the climate negotiations that are supposed to culminate with a Global Deal in December 2009.

Fiona Harvey, environment reporter for the Financial Times, wrote a piece published on September 15 entitled "Divided We Stand" The links are added by MCFly.

"The next major step in the UN negotiation process is a conference in December at Poznan, Poland. But although this conference will be the last major meeting before the climax of talks in Copenhagen, it is unlikely to produce any notable breakthrough.

"People are not going to give away their real negotiating position at this stage," says Eileen Claussen, president of the Washington-based Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. "The negotiations are hardly moving at all."

Ms Claussen is further quoted as saying "My own experience [as a Whitehouse adviser on climate change under Bill Clinton] suggsts that it takes at least six months for senior policy people to be confirmed in place.... Then they have to go through the policy process. The odds of a detailed US position before the fall of 2009 are pretty small."

However, since then, Obama has won t'election, and as Ed Luce of the FT points out, he isn't making the same sorts of foul-ups with his transition that Bubba did...

The second piece is also from a Pew Centre bod, and also from the pre-election period (October 22, to be precise). Eliot Diringer writes in "The US Election and Prospects for a New Climate Agreement"

"The new U.S. administration will likely not be in a position to agree to a specific emissions target when governments meet in Copenhagen. That can happen only when Congress has enacted (or is on the verge of enacting) legislation setting firm limits on U.S. emissions. Beyond the question of timing, however, is the level of effort the United States is likely to undertake. One quandary is that targets that appear quite ambitious from a U.S. perspective would still be far short of what Europe is calling for."

And further, "the U.S. target will be largely a function of the domestic debate, not international pressure, and is unlikely to deviate significantly from the numbers now before Congress."

So Diringer argues "developing countries will not be prepared to enter into such commitments before the United States assumes a binding international target, which, again, is highly unlikely in Copenhagen. Under these circumstances, the best plausible outcome for Copenhagen may be an intermediary agreement outlining the key elements of a post-2012 framework- for instance, binding economy-wide targets for developed coutnries, policy commitments for the major emerging economies, and support mechanisms for technology, finance, and adaptation in developing countries. This would then serve as the basis for further negotiations on details such as specific target and funding levels. An intermediary framework agreement will be most credible, and most likely to induce developing country commitments, if it includes an agreed range for developing country targets, making it imperative that the US-EU gap be bridged in Copenhagen.... Instead of a full and final deal in Copenhagen, we must aim for what is in fact feasible, and set expectations now so that it is received as a success. The risks and consequences of failure are otherwise far too great."

Obama is a smart guy, and he seems to know what is at stake. He has sent a video message to Ahnold Schwarzenegger's Climate Conference promising quick action.

One more FT quote, this time from Mike Scott on Monday 17 November:
"Clean energy is also proving to be a convenient policy tool, as it addresses four major issues that dominated the election campaign: energy security, the economy, employment and climate change," says Lord Stern, now vice-chairman of IdeaCarbon, the carbon ratings agency.
A little noticed aspect of the US Treasury's $700bn bail-out plan was the inclusion of a number of measures designed to boost clean energy including the extension of tax credits for the solar and wind industries and measures to boost carbon capture and storage."

There's a new Congressional House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman too, Henry Waxman, which informed commentators think is a Good Thing.

Things to remember- despite all this talk, or talking about talking, and all the "good intentions", emissions still climb, and we build the infrastructure to lock us into continued high emissions. Recent work by Manchester-based academics Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows has shown this to be a remarkably stupid thing for a species that bills itself as "sapiens" to do.

Contraction and Convergence
might actually have given us a chance to sort all this out, but we're now looking at accelerated sink failure and- as Margaret Atwood put it- a Pending Ecological Debacle. There is no such thing as a free lunch- someone, somewhere, always has to pay. Until now the West has been able to throw that bill at some Other. Not for much longer, not for much longer...

Thanks to Olive Heffernan of Nature Climate Feedbacks for bringing both of the Pew articles to my attention

See also
Climate Progress
Beyond Copenhagen Complete with pictures of the Little Mermaid before and after the icecaps melt...

Monday, 17 November 2008

News from London- Plane Stupid in court...

Last week, five Plane Stupid activists faced the judicial music for a "we've climbed onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament to highlight the Department for Transport being in bed with BAA" stunt.

The judge found 'em guilty, but also that it was reasonable for them to have concluded as they did.

One of the Plane Stupiders sent us this:

'We're delighted by the outcome of our trial. Our defence against the charge was 'the use of reasonable force to prevent a crime', but because we didn't use any violence in carrying out our action, the magistrate ruled that our defence did not apply, meaning we were guilty of trespass. But both the magistrate and the prosecution counsel accepted that it was reasonable for us to conclude that there was a criminal conspiracy going on at the Department for Transport during the Heathrow Consultation, given the facts we understood at the time.

Plane Stupid have now officially requested a police investigation into our allegations of criminal misconduct and conspiracy against at least two of the civil servants named in the Freedom of Information documents we relied on in our defence case. The judge awarded us small fines (£365 each) in explicit recognition of the fact that we honestly believed we were acting in the public interest, and that other democratic remedies had been closed off to us.

The same cannot possibly be said of the DfT officials who worked hand in hand with BAA, falsifying data in order to deceive the public about the environmental impact of the Heathrow expansion plans. Plane Stupid has very little faith in the ability of the police to bring Government officials to justice of course, so we will continue our campaign of responsible citizenship and civil disobedience until all plans for airport expansion in the UK are scrapped.'

MCFly will carry information shortly about any imminent Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport meeting.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Obama and Climate Change- initial thoughts

Well, at least we now have a POTUS with the requisite number of chromosomes, so that's a good start. And you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be swept up just a little bit...
He will have to, as the business press and everyone else has been saying, massage expectations downwards. David Rovics has a sensible take.

The blogosphere is, inevitably, awash with punditry. One of the best so far is Obama and Climate Change- does he have what it takes? which refers to Bill “The End of Nature” McKibben's column “President Obama's Big Climate Challenge

Another is Strategery 2.0 "What can greens expect from Obama?

For the Obama presidency, there are three biggies:

  1. Get out of Iraq.

  2. Do something about energy and carbon.

  3. Pass healthcare reform.

Based on precedent it's likely he'd be willing to negotiate or horse trade just about anything else in favor of tackling these three issues.

Now, how does that same strategy translate to climate/energy? The biggies in this area are:

  1. A declining cap on carbon -- the linchpin.

  2. Large investments in green R&D and infrastructure.

  3. Regulatory and tax support for clean electricity and alternative fuels.

The first two shape the foundation of the market and the third accelerates new industries within it.

Along the way, there are certain to be environmentalist-irritating concessions. There will be research and pilot-project funding for "clean coal," oil shale, and liquid coal. Ethanol subsidies are unlikely to be substantially curtailed. There will likely be more oil drilling. Horses will be traded.
Don't be ridiculous. Nothing will.

Will Obama's plan keep us below a 2 degree global average temperature rise above pre-Industrial levels?
Don't be ridiculous. Nothing will.
And here's an intelligent comment on a blog that lays out some of the reasons.

Obama has lots of eye-catching stuff about increasing renewables. You can expect a solar panel on the White House within a couple of weeks of inauguration. There's more eye-catching stuff about energy efficiency and “energy security.”

And Obama MAY show up at the Poznan Climate Talks- people want him to- but I suspect he won't.

What to watch for (i.e. how it could come unstuck, what the major stumbling blocks are)
He has to work with the Democrats in Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi
He has to tell Americans that their long love affair with fossil fuels and NO LIMITS is over.
The Europeans have their bluff called- making promises you don't think you'll have to keep is easy, after all...

Where can I find out more information?
His own website's Energy and Climate pages
Climate Progress- a rather excellent blog by Joseph Romm

Council on Foreign Relations
Pew Centre

Carbon offsetting - what does it mean?

Issue 11 of Manchester Climate Fortnightly includes the story that parts of the Piccadilly Basin development have been awarded 'carbon neutral status.' While this is partly down to a BREEAM rating of 'excellent' for the energy efficiency of the buildings and eco-measures such as a 'living roof,' this seems to mainly be based on the development's purchase of carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets are still a highly controversial means of claiming environmental impact reductions for buildings, flying, driving, heating buildings and homes and other polluting activities.
The negative impacts of some offset projects, especially reforestation projects which have planted monocultures or inappropriate tree species on land from which indigenous people and peasants have been evicted, is well documented. The name 'Future Forests' was dropped by one of the industry's first big players after the associations became too negative - it's now the almost-ubiquitous 'Carbon Neutral Company.'
Some critics of offsets have wider objections, focusing not on the ills of specific projects but seeing the entire idea as dubious - an opportunity for us to continue living environmentally profligate lifestyles and make us feel better about massive overconsumption by buying our way out of guilt - not dissimilar to the 'indulgences' peddled by the Roman Catholic church during the Medieval period.
For those interested in offsets, though, the difficulty is in finding offset services which offer projects which don't abuse human rights, are environmentally sustainable in other ways, such as respecting biodiversity and water resources, and which support projects which are genuinely 'additional' - ie they wouldn't happen if those offset payments weren't coming in. For more discussion on this kind of issue, see the Carbon Offsets product report in Ethical Consumer magazine or the debate between Paul Monaghan of the Co-op Group and Dan Welch of Ethical Consumer in Enterprising magazine.
And this, to cut to the chase (yep, I'm finally getting there!), is what worries me about the Piccadilly Basin statement of 'carbon neutrality.' One of the offset investments it lists is the Sichuan Hydro Power Project in China. Now, I know nothing about this project specifically, and I haven't got time to go and investigate it at this moment. But I do know that Chinese hydropower projects have a diabolical environmental and human rights history. The notorious Three Gorges Dam, for instance, included the (in many cases forced) displacement of over a million people, the flooding of priceless archaeological heritage and huge environmental damage. Other Chinese massive hydropower projects have had similar impacts, if not on quite such a vast scale. And while China's huge population deserves all the comforts that the affluent West has awarded itself over the years, how much of the power from some of these projects is actually going to Chinese homes, and how much to an economy predicated to a substantial extent on manufacturing stuff for export to us, and to the rest of Europe and the USA, to feed our apparently inexhaustible appetite for things we don't need? And is this a suitable destination for funds which then allow developments in our own backyard to call themselves 'carbon neutral'?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Journal Review- The Fourth World Review, Oct 2008

The Fourth World Review: A Transition Journal
No 147
October 2008
32 A5 pages, stapled

The Fourth World Review has been going more than forty years “as a response to the ongoing global crises to assert the supremacy of local community power and the moral control of public affairs on the basis of that power.
The editorial for this issue implies that it's had a bit of a second wind from the recent upsurge in activity- or preparation for activity- that goes under the banner of “Transition Towns.”
Articles here include “GM crops and eugenics,” “Why we should care about ecosystems,” “Quid pro co-production” and “Alternative Currencies.” There are also book reviews and an entertaining collection of observations at the back, the “Fourth World Spectator.”
All the articles are “bite-sized”- easy to read while waiting for a bus or in the smallest room. Only one of the articles (by Rob “Transition Towns” Hopkins) has further reading lists. Most- though not all- are clearly written, though all could have done with a little spicing up.

There are no pictures or cartoons, making it intimidating for some, and less engaging than it needs to be. Most seriously, there is no reference to the recent (and in this reviewer's opinion) telling criticisms of the “Transition” model by various folks, including the SchNews crew down in Brighton. Perhaps this was already alluded to in a previous issue, or will be soon.

Still, definitely one to watch, and who can argue with their mantra- “The one to act is me. The place to act is here. And the time to act is now.
MCFly will review future issues as and when appropriate.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Three excellent presentations about carbon, design and climate

Three rapid-fire presentations, three lots of food for thought at the latest (and best this MCFly reporter has been to) “Green Drinks”- which is essentially a montly business-card-swapping opportunity for professionals in the regeneration/sustainability game.
First up was Charlie Baker of URBED, giving an overview of what needs to be done and why (he pointed out how small-c conservative the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change actually was.
He was followed by Kate Brown, a consultant engineer with Faber Maunsell, a consultancy specialising in the planning, design and engineering of buildings, transport systems and environmental services. She looked at the different ways her company designs out waste and aims at zero carbon buildings.
Greg Keeffe, Principal Lecturer at the Manchester Metropolitan University's Faculty of Art and Design closed out with a look at how smart nature is, and how dumb we humans can be when they refuse to accept the subtle design hints on offer. (Cuttlefish can say so much without words- they use colours!) Worth googling bio-mimicry and industrial ecology. He also recommended a book called "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly. Subtitle is "The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World."

On the plus side, it was free and really engaging- MCFly will nag the three speakers to post their presentations somewhere for all to see.
On the negatives, it was a downstairs venue and the drinks were expensive.
MCFly will let you know when the next Green Drinks is happening- definitely worth going, even if you don't have a business card to swap...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Shouting fire on a crowded planet.

The Manchester Evening News leads today with something that ... isn't bleeding!
The headline reads “Firmen sent to Greece for 'climate change' training.

The story, and the comments on the website, all focus on it being a junket/a waste of money.

No-one seems to be focussing on the hypocrisy angle. These guys go off on a climate change- related course and get to where they're going by, er, flying. It's not mentioned whether they bought carbon offsets, but so what, those things are largely a scam anyhow.


The MEN is owned by the Guardian Media Group. It, and other newspapers, are dependent upon advertising for their operating costs and profits. The most reliable advertisers are often the most carbon-intensive- airlines and car-makers. But to say there's any self-censorship would be pure conspiracy-theory....